What a difference four years makes. The last time Tim Tebow was at The Swamp with the Florida State Seminoles on the other sideline was Senior Day, 2009. Tebow, who sealed his 2007 Heisman Trophy with a brilliant performance against FSU, led the Gators to a 37-10 win in his final home game. Freshmen such as Jon Harrison, Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne got to watch that day as Tebow did one last victory lap around the stadium with flashbulbs popping and fans trying to say one last good-bye to a hero.
Fast forward to 2013. Tebow was on the Florida sideline, perhaps watching the next member of the exclusive Heisman Trophy club. His name is Jameis Winston and while there is no disputing his talent, there is indeed a black cloud hanging over him in the form of a possible sexual assault charge that would be a black eye on his football future and the entire FSU program. It’s a publicity quagmire that came with two warnings to the post game media throng that only football questions were to be asked: no queries about affidavits or rape kits, just blocking, tackling, throwing and catching.
Winston threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns Saturday as he made a Heisman statement. He has yet to be charged, prosecuted or convicted of anything and at this rate, the judicial system seems to be the only thing that can stop Winston’s meteoric rise to the top of the college football world because nobody has been able to stop him on the field all season.
But the Florida defense certainly tried, giving one of its best efforts early on. In the first quarter, the Gators were flying around and making plays. Although FSU’s talent and depth wore them down, the Florida defense played with plenty of energy the entire game.
The first quarter started slowly for FSU because the Gators brought the pressure and Winston was under constant duress. After the first quarter, Florida State’s much heralded offense seemed defanged, with only three points and 2.75 yards per play to show for their efforts. The problem was protection and like any good team, the Seminoles made an adjustment and got things figured out.
“[Florida] was blitzing and getting on the edges,” Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We started getting our depth back and getting on the edges and keeping our shoulders square.”
Winston took a bunch of first quarter hits, but once he settled in behind good protection the Florida State offense went to work. Fisher thinks the more Winston gets hit, the more his inner competitor comes out.
“Some guys when they get hit in the mouth, there’s two kinds of people,” Fisher said. “One says ‘man what’s going on?’ others jump right back in the fight. He’s a guy that jumps right back in the fight.”
A juggernaut with a redshirt freshman at the helm amassed 456 yards of total offense the second most by a Florida opponent all year on a once vaunted Gators defense. Winston’s 327 yards were the most of any quarterback all year against Florida. The Gators picked Winston off once, but he countered with three touchdown passes, bringing his total to 35 on the season, an FSU record. To put that in perspective, in 2011, 2012 and 2013 Florida quarterbacks have combined to only throw 37 touchdowns.
For all of Jameis’ talent, it was a wide receiver that truly stole the show.
Kelvin Benjamin is an imposing, long limbed 6-5. His dreadlocks spilled forth from a knitted garnet and gold beanie hat after the game. It was a historic performance for the wideout from Belle Glade, whose 212 receiving yards Saturday are the most for any receiver against Florida in program history. Winston wasn’t surprised about Benjamin’s performance.
“He deserved it,” Winston said. “[Earlier this week] I called KB out and I said ‘KB, you are an unstoppable force. If you go out there and do what you do you will be unstoppable and no one can cover you.’”
He was right. Had Benjamin not dropped two long passes, he could have done even more damage. His record day included three touchdowns among his nine catches. Benjamin says the drops didn’t bother him, and the faith his quarterback has in him goes a long way. His head coach about him gushed after the game.
“KB has some real advantage with his size and speed and athleticism and he can be a very, very special player, he’s starting to really develop into that guy,” Fisher said.
What a difference four years makes. The last time Tim Tebow stood on Florida field in a Florida State game, he helped complete Florida’s second 12-0 season in program history. Today, the inverse was the case. The Seminoles are perfect in regular season play with an ACC championship game upcoming and potentially even more to play for after that. They’ve got the best player in the country under center and a team that seems destined for greatness. The Seminoles are hoping their special 2013 ends with happiness that Florida was unable to attain in 2009. A win on January 6th, 2014 in the BCS national championship game would definitely do the trick.